Cow Comfort

Dairy cows are true Mainers

Dairy cows are true Mainers

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the cows think it’s delightful! Seriously, cows much prefer the cold of winter to the heat of summer. I highly doubt the happiest cows are in California. Maine weather is perfect for cows. It never stays hot for too long, and a lot of rain and a little sun make for good grass. On a recent blustery morning that started out at below zero and worked its way up to about 20 degrees as the sun came up, I stopped in to a couple of farms on my way to work to see how the dairy cows were fairing in the cold. It wasn’t like I was avoiding going to the office or anything; this is important work. The barn was nice and toasty as the milking was finishing up at Triple D Acres – the Donald family in New Sharon. The farm, which ships its milk to Organic Valley, milks 70 to 75 cows. They have mostly Holsteins, but are crossing in the Normande breed as it easier to maintain with less grain. The telltale of a Normande cross is the circles around their eyes, said Jeff Donald – the nephew of the farm’s owner, John Donald. Normande cross calf at Triple D Acres in New Sharon, Maine. I, myself, recently got a Normande cross bull calf, and he too has rings around his eyes. These little gals were not at all cold in their barn. Normande x Holstein calves at Triple D Acres in New Sharon. The heifers and a few dry cows were already outside. They have substantial, woolly coats to keep them warm and seemed oblivious to the cold even though my fingers were starting to go numb while taking their pictures. I love the slightly wild look they have when their hair starts growing out. This Triple D Acres Heifer is growing a thick coat to keep her warm through the Maine winter. These are the tweens and teens of a dairy farm. Old enough to be outside but too young to be out with the bull. The older heifers that were (hopefully) bred to have their first calf about nine months from now and some of the dry cows were out in this big beautiful field. Triple D Acres will fool you. It looks pretty small from the road, but it is how it sits. Everything goes slightly downhill. Jeff led me out behind the barns and all the sudden it opens up. I am a sucker for rolling hills, and this place has them. It didn’t look like many bovines at first. As I started to take pictures, Jeff told me to wait. We were on a slight rise and I couldn’t see all the heifers until I got a little higher. I am going to go back (this is me inviting myself, but they are super nice people, so I am sure they’ll be OK with it) in the summer. I imagine it’s absolutely breathtaking when it’s all green and the cows are out grazing. Heifers and dry cows out on winter pasture at Triple D Acres in New Sharon, Maine.   Thick, fluffy coats for the winter. Black cow, white snow, blue sky. More fluffy cows. Because it was such a gorgeous day, and the sun was warming, I kept on going into Farmington, turning onto Bailey Hill. When I saw By-Grace Farm, my jaw dropped open. It had that classic New England look, complete with a stonewall and big ol’ white dairy barn. The following picture doesn’t do it justice. By-Grace Farm...

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Cows come first: Keeping bovines comfortable in extreme cold

Cows come first: Keeping bovines comfortable in extreme cold

January 2014 The ideal temperature for a dairy cow is between 25 and 65 degrees. She’s not too hot, not too cold. When the extreme cold hits Maine, dairy farmers have to be vigilant to make sure the drop in temperatures doesn’t take a toll on their herds. Cows at the Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton make steam clouds when their warm breath hits the cold air. Plenty of good feed and curtains to block the wind keep them comfortable and healthy. Erin Flood is both a large animal veterinarian with Hometown Veterinary Care in Fairfield and a member of a dairy farming family in Clinton – the Flood Brothers Farm (she is married to the son of one of the brothers). She takes a special interest in cow comfort on the farm because she knows the best practices for optimal health of their cows. I took a walk around the farm with Erin on a recent COLD, blustery day and she pointed out all the ways her family ensures the cold won’t have any harmful effects on their animals. Erin Flood uses a portable ultrasound to check for heifers that are ready to be bred while Bruce Ogeka takes notes. Heifers need to be at a healthy weight to combat the cold and to have a successful breeding and pregnancy. “The biggest concern is the energy requirements for the animals,” she said. “Their energy requirements can go up by 10 to 15, even 20 percent.” This means, their calorie intake needs to be at an appropriate level to keep up. “Calves on milk can burn through their fat reserves very quickly in these temps we’ve had lately,” Erin added. “As the temp gets colder, the more they use up. They increase energy requirements dramatically  upwards of 50 percent or beyond – up to 85 percent in extreme temperatures. “And also, water – making sure they have enough and that water lines and buckets aren’t frozen.” This calf has made herself comfortable, bedding down in the deep shavings. As we entered the calf barn at Flood Brothers, Erin pointed to a young heifer calf lying in deep bedding. “See how it comes up around her knees? It needs to be deep enough so that they can really nestle down into it. And it needs to be dry.” Calves that are still on milk have access to as much as they want, and all have free choice access to heated water and dry, fresh grain. Thick screens or curtains are pulled down along the sides of the usually open barn to keep out any wind, but Erin said as soon as it warmed up enough, it was important to let in fresh air. “We batten down the hatches in this weather, and then open them back up when it warms a little for ventilation,” she said. The farm recently installed two immense ventilation tubes that were designed in partnership with Dairyland Initiative at University of Wisconsin in the calf barn to reduce the risk of pneumonia. Erin said weather like that seen in Maine this winter with extreme cold and then a warm spell and then extreme cold makes for prime conditions to cause pneumonia in herds, especially among the young calves.  These calves were running and bucking around their pen, oblivious to the cold thanks to clean, dry bedding and the curtains on their barn keeping out the wind. Along with proper nutrition and ventilation, making sure cows are up to date on vaccinations is another way to combat the risk of pneumonia and other illnesses that could cause a cow...

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R.E. Hemond Farm

R.E. Hemond Farm

At 93 (and a half) years old, Noella Hemond still has a strong hold on the dairy farm she and her husband Roland bought in 1945 in Minot. Her children and grandchildren play important roles in the day to day operations, but when it comes down to the big decisions, Grandma has the final say. And while the grandchildren may not always agree with her decision at the time, in the end, they see the wisdom behind her choices, says granddaughter Laurie Miner, 26. “The boys will ask for some new piece of equipment, and she’ll say ‘No, you can get by with what you have.’ But that’s how she was able to buy the new milking parlor without taking out loans. Gram saves her money, but she also doesn’t owe the bank,” Laurie says. The parlor was installed one year ago – a DeLaval double 12 parallel rapid exit (it’s as shiny and fancy as it sounds) – an upgrade that improves both production and cow comfort. Noella oversees usually one major improvement or project on the farm each year, whether it be a new parlor, new free stall area or heifer barn. “She wants to make sure the girls are all content before she joins my grandfather,” Laurie says. Roland (R.E.), for whom the R.E. Hemond Farm is named, died from cancer in November of 2007. “He worked all that summer on the tractor,” despite having had multiple knee replacements over the years, Laurie adds. “He stopped in mid August. It finally caught up with him. He said, ‘That’s it.’” When Roland and Noella bought the farm, it came with 25 milking cows. “There were no heifers,” Noella says. “Only cows.” (Heifers are soon to be dairy cows that have not yet had a calf or started their first lactation. Farms will often have as many heifers to be used for replacements once they are old enough as they do cows that are already milking.) “We’ve stayed around 600 head for the last five years,” says Noella adding that 600 is close to maximum capacity for the farm. “It’s been a slow growth.” She recently met up with a veterinarian who used to visit the farm 20 years ago, and gave him a tour, showing him all the new barns and buildings. “He said, ‘It’s like a village out here.’” She likes to see the farm produce 100 female calves (heifer calves) each year, a number that keeps the herd total pretty constant. “But we’ve already had 89 this year (as of July 24), and there will be more.” The Hemonds had 20 heifer calves in one month alone in 2013 and are on pace for about 150-160. And each one gets a name, which is part of Laurie’s job. She often relies on baby name websites and books for ideas. Both she and her husband came from dairy farm families. She grew up in Poland, Maine. “My dad used to shoe horses and had about a dozen cows. Ninety years ago, there were no big farms like this. If a farmer had 30 to 40 cows, he was a big one,” Noella remembers. “When I was young, everything was done with horses, there were no tractors.” When the Hemonds started, the farm had its own milk delivery business. It also had “a bunch of old equipment and one horse,” Noella adds. “Slowly, it grew and grew.” They built their first 100-foot cow barn in 1949, and bottled their own milk until 1987, at which time they started shipping to Oakhurst. The Hemonds had nine children, Laurie’s...

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Maine Farm Days- August 21st & August 22nd

Maine Farm Days- August 21st & August 22nd

  Running an 1,100 cow/1,050 acre dairy farm – milking 500 cows three times a day, planting and harvesting crops, making hay, cow and calf care, general maintenance, on and on – is more work than the average person can even fathom. But then add on hosting one of Maine’s largest two-day agricultural events on your farm, and people are just going to think you’re crazy. At Misty Meadows Farm in Clinton, that’s just what they do. In August. At one of the busiest times of year for a dairy farm. “It’s always in the middle of everything,” says Kim Wright, who operates the farm with her husband Thomas and parents-in-law John and Belinda Stoughton. As is farm work, planning for Farm Days is year-round with the planning committee meeting once a month. The importance of Maine Farm Days far outweighs any extra work and headaches it causes for the family, Kim adds. The event serves as an educational opportunity to teach the public, not just about dairy farming but about all agriculture and food production. “Kids find out that milk comes from a cow, not the grocery store,” adds Belinda. This is the fifth year Misty Meadows has hosted Farm Days – 2007-2008 and 2011-13. The plan was to rotate the event around to other farms, but Misty Meadows is about as central as you can get and is not far off the interstate, so it continues to be hosted here for now. Activities are planned for both farmers and non-farmers alike. There are agribusiness exhibits, equipment dealers, a forage competition, vegetable and chicken judging, and educational speakers and presentations on topics like reducing pesticide reliance, wind energy, no-till production, weed identification and more. But there are also wagon tours around the farm, demonstrations, children’s activities on Wednesday (coin scramble, sack race, egg race) and ice cream making on Thursday, a farmer’s market, whoopie pie and apple pie contests, a book signing by author David Melesky, animals and more. The milking contest at noon on Thursday is always a big hit. New events this year are a bike drawing for the kids and a horse scooting and twitching contest. Maine Farm Days also serves as the preliminaries for the Maine Dairy Princess Pageant. The princess will be selected at the Clinton Lions’ Fair in September. Because she doesn’t have enough to do with the farm, an off-the-farm job and Maine Farm Days, Belinda is also the pageant director and has been since the event was started back up in 2007 after a 25-30 year hiatus. Clinton is Maine’s dairy capital (it says so on their “Welcome to Clinton” sign), so it’s fitting to have a dairy princess pageant here, just like other regions have princess pageants for wild blueberries, potato blossoms and the sea princess. Participants do not have to live or work on a dairy farm, but must be sponsored by a dairy farm and are expected to learn a number of facts about the farm, dairy cows and the dairy industry. There is a public speaking portion, during which they talk about the sponsoring dairy farm, and they are quizzed on their dairy knowledge. Winners at the princess, junior princess and collegiate level become ambassadors for the dairy industry, traveling around the state to several agricultural affairs, parades and gatherings. Along with the opportunity to win a college scholarship, Belinda says the participants benefit greatly from requirements such as the public speaking portion. “It really brings them out of their shell,” she says. While both women say it’s great to have a representative who has a...

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Tide Mill Organic Farm – nine generations of Bell Family history

Tide Mill Organic Farm – nine generations of Bell Family history

The first Bell arrived in Edmunds Township on Maine’s easternmost coast in 1765 from Scotland, and the roots he planted have only grown stronger in the nearly 250 years since then. Today, the ninth generation of Bells is being raised on the property now known as Tide Mill Organic Farm, and 17 members of the family live amongst six households there. The farm got its name because of a gristmill that the early Bells built on the water’s edge. The mill, which was in operation by 1800, was powered by the tide. The eldest of the eighth generation, Aaron Bell, his wife Carly DelSignore and their four children head up the farm operation with Aaron taking lead on the dairy and Carly taking care of the vegetable gardens and poultry (they raise 10,000 chickens and 500 turkeys each year and have a small processing plant on the farm) . The family milks a mix of about 50 Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss and cross-bred cows, producing 200 gallons of milk a day. Seventy percent of that milk goes to Maine’s Own Organic Milk (MOOMilk); the rest is sold at farmer’s markets and to cheese makers, including his cousin who owns Tide Mill Creamery.  Neighbors also come to the farm to purchase raw milk, leaving their money in a coffee can next to the fridge in the milk tank room. In all, the farm is about 1600 acres. At one time, the farm was much larger, and more recently it was broken up into much smaller parcels by family members. But the family brought it back together, and “we’ve managed to keep it together and keep it in agricultural production,” Aaron said. Most of the farm is woodland, with 200 acres of mixed vegetables and 40-50 acres of open fields. Aaron’s father Robert and uncle Terry operate a sustainable wood harvesting business, cutting on the family’s property, as well as other locations across Washington County. The brothers started a dairy at Tide Mill Farm in the 1960s, when there were several in the area, but sold off the dairy herd in 1977 to focus on logging, beef cattle and hay. After graduating from the University of Maine at Orono in 2000, Carly and Aaron returned to the farm to live, and Aaron worked with his father in the woods. In 2005, the dairy foods company HP Hood approached farms in the area to meet the increased demand for organic milk. Aaron signed on and started making improvements and upgrades to the old infrastructure that was already in place from the past dairy at the farm. A couple years later, when the economy went south and some consumers were no longer able to pay the higher price for organic milk and the cost of transporting the milk from remote dairies like Tide Mill became too much, Hood was forced to drop the Bells and several other small organic farms.  The 10 farms then came together to start their own cooperative – MOOMilk, which is processed and bottled by Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook. While it got off to a rough start, the cooperative has been up and running for a couple of years and is starting to improve. They are now recruiting even more milk, said Aaron, adding that Whole Foods and other stores in the Boston area have been a big market for them. “We only want to sell in the New England area,” Aaron said, emphasizing the importance of offering a local, fresh product. It does cost more for organic feed for his cows, and Aaron gives them a mix of silage,...

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Flood Brothers Farm, Clinton

Flood Brothers Farm, Clinton

Everything is big at the Flood Brothers Farm. The barns are big, the milking parlor is big, the farm supports a big family, even the Holsteins are bigger than most. Flood Bros. is located in Clinton – the dairy capital of Maine as its seven family dairy farms are responsible for producing about 15 percent of Maine’s milk, and Flood Bros. produces one-third of that figure. Milking 1,600 head of mostly Holstein (there’s a total of 3,900 cows on the farm), they send out 15,000 gallons of milk daily. An operation this size has led the Flood family to make some upgrades. Three years ago they built the new milking parlor with a 100-cow milking rotary. They previously used a 50-stall rotary, but they were spending 12 to 15 hours each day just milking. Now their time has been cut to about 8 hours a day in the parlor. Cows are collared with ID tags that are read by scanners. It is through that little tag, that workers are able to keep track of every cow – how much milk she is producing, is she drinking enough water, is she as active as normal. If her behavior is off, another scanner will locate her as she walks through the chutes back to the barn, a gate will close and she will be separated from the herd so that she can be checked. “Our foremost interest is for the health of the animals and their nutrition,” says Jenni Tilton-Flood, the daughter-in-law of George Flood Jr. who owns the farm with his brother Bill. Because of their interest in the animals’ health, the Floods work with two nutritionists from two companies. The Floods grow much of their own feed with 3,000 acres of grass and about 1,600 of corn. Each cow, on average, eats 100 pounds of rations daily with younger stocking eating slightly less and a producing milk cow consuming a bit more. In return, the cows yield more than 80 pounds of milk per cow per day, some will yield 90 or more pounds. Milk trucks come in twice a day to take the milk to the processors, and that milk is on the store shelves within days, Jenni says. “Our goal is to have the finest quality milk, not just in Maine but in the entire Northeast.” She adds that they are proud of the numerous quality awards they have received from their cooperative – Agri Mark.   The Flood Bros. Farm got its start back in 1927, when at the age of 14 George Flood Sr. decided he wanted to raise dairy cows and deliver milk to the local creamery. The property had been in the family since the late 18th century, and it was a summer farm for the Floods for many years. George Jr. and Bill purchased the farm from their father and mother Madelyn in 1980. The herd was at about 300 dairy cows at the time, and they grew to support their growing family. The brothers each have two children, and they and their significant others are all involved on the farm in some capacity. More than one dozen family members in three different generations have a role on the farm, and the farm employs about 40 people. Jenni often gives tours of the farm to area school children. She is always amazed at the few numbers of children who raise their hands when she asks who lives near a farm. “Around here, it’s almost impossible for them not to live near a farm,” she says. “They just don’t realize that it is...

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